Terra Galleria Photography

Guadalupe Peak Summit trail

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On the day I photographed the solar eclipse, I hiked for more than six hours (considering the morning scouting session) and did not return to the car until 11pm. My initial plan was therefore to take a rest day, photographing the desert plants near the visitor center, and in particular the cactus which were starting to bloom in late May.

However, when I stepped in the visitor center in mid-morning, I noticed that high winds were forecast for the following evening. The winds at Guadalupe Mountains National Park are legendary, as Guadalupe Pass acts as a funnel with the prevailing west and southwest winds. Sustained winds in the 30+ miles per hour range and gusts exceeding 70 miles per hour are common. During my previous visit to the park, my tent nearly flew out, as I was not able to drive stakes deep enough into the hard ground of the campsite. I had to load it with rocks. I could not sleep, as the inside of the tent felt like a washing machine. This was at low elevation flats near Pine Springs, so it was out of question to try to hike to mountaintops, where the wind would have surely been worse. Since I missed the summit hike then, in spite of the late hour, my lack of rest, and the less than optimal forecast, I decided to try it immediately instead of risking being stymied by high winds again. I went back to my campsite and hurriedly packed.

The trail started with steep switchbacks on arid terrain without shade, which was brutally hot in the early afternoon. I was grateful for the sunscreen that my tent neighbors had given me.

At higher elevations, the environment changed, as the trail entered conifer forests. The weather changed too. Clouds began to fill the sky, I could feel some waterdrops and I heard distant thunder. Since I hadn’t taken my tent, instead of setting my overnight gear at the official backcountry campsite, I found a nearby spot sheltered by an overhanging boulder.

As thunder subsided, I resumed hiking. After 4.5 miles and an elevation gain of 3,000 feet, I reached the Guadalupe Peak, highest point in Texas ( (8,751 feet, or 2,667 meters) marked by a curious stainless steel monument placed by American Airlines in the 1950s.

As the sun peaked below the clouds half an hour before sunset, illuminating the backside of El Capitan towards the South, I was thankful for my luck. Not only did I dodge a thunderstorm, but instead of being drenched by the rain or waiting in dull light, I got nice conditions for the expansive views which were the main goal of the hike.

The view spanned 360 degrees. Towards the East, the shadow of Guadalupe Peak grew rapidly over the West Texas plains.

I watched the sun set on the other side, then I lingered on the summit for a few more night pictures before heading down in the dark back to my bivy.

After another short night, I got up more than one hour before sunrise in order to hike back up to the summit in time for the first light. Clouds were still lingering, but for a few minutes, a distant sunray was visible.

I took advantage of the cloudy conditions to make close-up images of the sub-alpine flowers.

By the time the sun reappeared, the light was less interesting, so I tried a series of images of myself standing in the landscape. I find that those work better when the human figure is small in the landscape, which necessitates standing a fair distance away from the camera, and triggering the shutter with an intervalometer rather than just the camera self-timer.

More images of Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Part 2 of 5: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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